Mariners at Memorial Day: Run Production
It's been more of the same from the Mariners' lineup thus far.
We’ve reached Memorial Day weekend, the one-third mark of the season, which is an ideal time to consider the trajectory of the Mariners’ 2023 campaign. With this in mind, I’m doing write-ups on Seattle’s run production effort, starting rotation, and bullpen.
Let’s begin with the team’s weakest link - the lineup.
The Mariners have been average-ish at scoring runs, which is obviously the most important offensive stat. But the team ranks in the bottom-third of MLB in multiple categories.
To me, the lineup has lacked the length required to be the consistent run producer it needs to be. The basis of this assessment is the number of Seattle hitters with 100-plus plate appearances and an OPS+ greater than the league-average.
On-base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+) is a normalized version of OPS that adjusts for park and league conditions. OPS+ is scaled so 100 is always league-average. As a result, an OPS+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 OPS+ would be 20-percent below average.
OPS+ of M’s Hitters
Jarred Kelenic - 143
Jose Caballero - 137
Ty France - 115
Cal Raleigh - 110
J.P. Crawford - 102
Julio Rodríguez - 96
Taylor Trammell - 93
Teoscar Hernández - 92
Eugenio Suárez - 89
Tom Murphy - 73
AJ Pollock - 62
Sam Haggerty - 39
Kolten Wong - 31
MLB Average OPS+ = 100
Heading into the season, four players listed above were viewed as above-average run producers. But they’ve yet to live up to those expectations: Julio Rodríguez, Teoscar Hernández, Eugenio Suárez, and Kolten Wong.
So, what’s going on with these players and the rest of the lineup? Let’s walk through a few numbers catching my eye. Perhaps doing so sheds light on what’s holding back the offense.
More loud contact, which is good
In 2022, the Mariners had a below-average 36.7% hard-hit rate. Entering today, the team sits at 41%. Good enough to rank eleventh in the majors, a noticeable improvement over last year (23rd).
Despite the uptick in loud contact, the Mariners have a .477 AVG on hard-hit balls, which is significantly below the .502 league average. The following illustrates the numbers for individual players. Stats falling below the MLB-average threshold are highlighted in red.
The names leading the team in hard-hit rate are ones you probably expected to see. But a specific leader stands out more than the rest to me in a bad way: Rodríguez.
Seattle’s All-Star center fielder leads the team in hard-hit rate. Yet, his .386 AVG on hard-hit balls is over one-hundred points below the league average.
Among 167 hitters with at least 40 hard-hit balls, Rodríguez’s AVG ranks 158th. As a rookie last season, he was top-15 in the majors with a .546 AVG on loud contact. So, what’s driving this unusually poor success?
Perhaps it’s a case of misfortune, which eventually auto-corrects over time. To date, Rodríguez has a .200 AVG on hard-hit ground balls. Again, that’s significantly worse than what the league is doing right now (.386 AVG) and well below what the 2022 Rookie of the Year delivered last season (.446).
Rodríguez’s underwhelming hard-hit production stats feel like bad luck to me.
Despite the Mariners’ improvement in contact quality, they’ve yet to see it translate into more runs on a consistent basis. So, let’s turn our attention to a trouble area for the club - quantity of contact.
But not enough contact, which is bad
Only 63.9% of Seattle’s plate appearances have ended with a ball in play. That’s about four-percent below the league average and second-lowest in MLB.
Lowest % of PA’s Ending With a BIP
MIN - 63.3%
SEA - 63.9%
SFG - 64.1%
SDP - 64.2%
LAD - 64.6%
OAK - 64.9%
MIL - 64.9%
CIN - 65.4%
CHC - 65.7%
DET - 66.4%
MLB average = 67.4%
It’s important to note the Mariners do draw a lot of walks, which obviously affects the number of batted ball events created. The team’s 9.1% walk rate is top-10 in baseball. Still, more contact could potentially lead to more chaos - Seattle’s calling card during its 2022 postseason run.
And that brings us to a challenge the Mariners have been confronting since Opening Day. The team’s 25.4% strikeout rate is third-highest in MLB. Naturally, this inhibits batted ball action.
Sometimes, a high-ish strikeout rate can be an acceptable trade-off when a hitter delivers power on a regular basis. But several Seattle sluggers have struggled to deliver pop while their bats continue to whiff away.
The sluggers ain’t sluggin’
Only five active Mariners have a slugging percentage above the current league average (.408). Compounding matters, two of these players - Jose Caballero and Taylor Trammell - have combined to play in 41 contests.
Granted, we don’t expect players like Crawford, Kolten Wong, and Sam Haggerty to be thumpers. But two regulars expected to propel the lineup with their power bats have yet to do so on a regular basis: Rodríguez and Eugenio Suárez.
We’ve already noted Rodríguez hard-hit challenges, which should normalize over time. As for Suárez, he entered today with a .333 OBP and .333 SLG. Not something you’d expect from a player with 31 home runs in each of the last two seasons.
On a positive note, the Mariners are slightly ahead of last year’s pace for doubles, which is nice. That said, the team’s standing in the home run category has begun to receive more scrutiny lately.
In 2022, Seattle finished with 197 home runs - ninth-most in MLB. The team currently sits in 18th place with 55 home runs, which is slightly below league-average (58). Still, it’s important to note the Mariners had 53 home runs through their first 50 games last year.
Having said all that, there’s no denying the Mariners have been much more successful this season when the lineup hits at least one home run in a game.
M’s W-L Record Based on Home Runs Hit
Zero HR: (3-12)
One HR: (12-8)
Two-plus HR: (11-4)
Essentially, the Mariners have a winning percentage close to .700 when they hit one-or-more home runs. But when the club goes homer-less, it’s winning at about the same rate as the Oakland A’s are this season.
Getting better in May?
Run production has improved in May compared to the first month of the season. So have the supporting statistics mentioned in our last table. Is this an indication the Mariners’ lineup is beginning to turn a corner?
Perhaps, but the team is still below-average in SLG and strikeout percentage. It’s also plausible playing 10 games against the pitching staffs of the A’s and Detroit Tigers this month helped elevate Seattle’s production numbers.
By this point, the Mariners front office likely knows which parts of the major-league roster it would prefer to augment before the MLB trade deadline on August 1. Based on previous comments by President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto and GM Justin Hollander, the organization has already been gauging the interest of potential trade partners.
And that’s a factor we have to consider. There must be a club willing to make a deal with the Mariners. An example of needs matching was the trade bringing Carlos Santana to the Emerald City last June. The Royals wanted to make room at first base for prospect Vinnie Pasquantino; Seattle needed first base help when France was dealing with an injury.
Realistically, the Mariners began the season short a bat. It still feels that way to me. But even if another established hitter joined the team today, run production won’t miraculously improve without some combination of Rodríguez, Hernández, and Suárez delivering better results then they have thus far.
Still, this dumb nerd would prefer the Mariners acquire another bat before August - even if the scuffling hitters we’ve been discussing were to heat up.
My Oh My…
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